Oct 21, 2021

How to Write a Flawless CV (Curriculum Vitae) for Graduate School

Wordvice HJ

What is the difference between a CV and a Resume?

While both CVs and resumes contain a history of your major activities, a resume is more heavily focused on professional achievements and work history. A CV or “curriculum vitae,” on the other hand, accentuates your academic accomplishments and is a synopsis of your educational and academic background and related information.

In addition to your college transcripts, GRE scores, and personal statement or statement of purpose, graduate schools will often require applicants to include a CV. The rules for composing a CV for a Master’s or doctoral application are slightly different than those for a standard job application. Let’s take a closer look.

Do I need to provide a CV for admission to college or graduate school?

CVs are used to secure all kinds of jobs—in this case, that job is “grad student”! Even when a graduate program does not explicitly require you to submit a CV, if the school DOES allow you to upload this document, according to many college and university counselors and admissions experts, it is almost always a good decision. Moreover, if you have not already composed an academic CV, now is the perfect time in your career to do so. Here are some reasons why now is an ideal time to create an academic CV:

  • Scholarship Applications—many college and university scholarships require candidates to include a CV in addition to filling out an application form.
  • Grant proposals—when applying for grants to fund your graduate research projects, including a CV with your research proposal goes a long way to instilling trust in the members of the committee awarding the grant.
  • University positions–if you have a desire to teach undergraduate classes, assist university researchers, or work in administration part-time, you are going to need to submit a CV.
  • Applying for jobs after graduation–even if you never end up needing a CV during your entire university career, you will almost certainly require a CV or resume for any job after you graduate. Because CVs and resumes are cumulative (that is, information is always being added to them to make them more current), creating a basic CV now will provide a detailed snapshot of exactly what you have accomplished so far. It is a lot easier to write down what you’ve been doing right after you have done it than to try and remember experiences from two or three years in the past.

Like personal statements, CVs are a common grad school application staple (though not all programs require them). A grad school CV serves the same basic purpose as a regular CV: to secure you the job you want — in this case, the position of “grad student.” Essentially, the CV is a sales pitch to grad schools, and you’re selling yourself!

What do the graduate faculty members and admissions committees look for in a CV?

Admissions committees and faculty members want to see that your skills, experiences, and qualifications make you a great fit for their program and university. So before you even begin to compose your CV, consider that your readers will have seen hundreds if not thousands of applicant profiles. Keep these considerations in mind to make your CV stand out:

  • Focus on your academic background. A rule of thumb for any Master’s application is to emphasize your academic achievements over your professional ones. Mention your work experiences if it is relevant to your studies and/or shows your work ethic and tenacity, but focus more time and attention on your educational experiences.
  • Tailor your CV to the specific program and department to which you are applying. Emphasize your experience and skills related to this specific area. For example, if you are applying to a Ph.D. program in Chemistry, go into greater detail about your experiences in classes or in the chem lab.
  • Use powerful language and include details. Strong phrases and a good vocabulary not only show academic control of language—they get the reader’s attention. Vary your verbs and expressions and be specific: instead of writing that you “spent a lot of time in the lab,” explain how you “assisted in bi-weekly slide analysis alongside Dr. Kunstler.” Concrete details make for a compelling story.
  • Tell your story through a clear structure. While the experiences on your CV will need to be ordered in a somewhat linear way, it is still possible to give a “narrative” of how you developed your knowledge and skills through your work and experiences, as well as how your interests pushed you. Admissions committees look for growth and improvement in their future students.
  • Volunteer work and internships matter. Internships and volunteer work outside of the classroom shows admissions officers what you are interested in and also that you are willing to work hard and support a team. Describe what you have done in detail and let the admissions officers come to their conclusions about what this says about you.

Major CV Sections and Important Information to Include

The order of information and level of detail you include about each element of your CV is somewhat flexible and is ultimately up to you. But the best academic CVs will be those that showcase the applicant’s interests and qualifications. Follow these section-by-section details to craft an academic CV that will impress any admissions committee.

Personal Details

Write your full name, home address, contact number, and email address. Include this information at the top of the first page, either in the center of the page or aligned left.

  • Use a larger font size and put the text in bold to make this info stand out.


This is a list of the institutions you have attended. Start with your most recent college or university and work backward to high school. Include the name of the institution, where it is located, the type of degree you received, your major, and the dates you attended.

  • If you have completed a thesis or dissertation, include the title and your advisor (if applicable).
  • Include any Latinate honors or distinctions here as well (i.e, “cum laude,” “magna cum laude,” “summa cum laude”).
  • You do not need to include your exact GPA or test scores—this information will be visible on your transcript.

Teaching Experience

While most first-time applicants to grad school likely won’t have any teaching experience under their belts, any experience tutoring or acting as a teacher’s assistant (both as an undergraduate or graduate student) could be placed in this category.

  • Include the relevant skills and duties you performed in bulleted statements.

Research Experience

As with teaching experience, research experience may be rare for first-time grad school applicants. But if you have any assistantships, practica, or other research experiences, list them here.

  • Include the institution, the nature and duties of the position, the name of your supervisor, and the dates of your research.

Honors and Awards

List each award, granting institution, and the date it was awarded. These can run anywhere from university scholarships to teaching assistantships and fellowships, to inclusion on the Dean’s list for having a stellar GPA.

  • Place these in order of importance, not necessarily in chronological order
  • If you have received only one award (e.g., “graduated with honors” or “Dean’s list”), consider placing this in the Education section.

Grants Awarded

Include any work for which funds were awarded. List the title of the submitting, the name of the awarding institution, the dollar amount of the grant, and the date it was awarded.

Technical Competencies

Because academic research is heavily dependent upon building databases and analyzing data, relevant experience with statistics and computer modeling and analyzing programs (EXAMPLES) should be highlighted on your CV.

  • List any courses you have taken, computer programs in which you are competent, and techniques for data analysis you have acquired and used.

Academic and Professional Experience

List work positions that highlight your skills and qualifications. This might include internships or jobs with administration duties but can include any work that shows your commitment and work ethic as well. Group experiences into relevant categories if you have multiple elements to include in one category (e.g., “Research,” “Teaching,” and “Managerial”). Your employment history should include work going back four to five years, depending on your age and the extent of your work experience.

  • List the name of the employer, location, the title of your position, and dates of employment.
  • Below this line, briefly describe your duties and responsibilities. Your description doesn’t need to be too extensive (one or two lines) since professional experience is not the central focus of your CV.

Research Publications

You will likely begin publishing work during or after graduate school. If you have published work, separated the various kinds of publications into sections for journal articles, reports, and other documents. If you do not have any formal publication credits to your name, you may also cite work in less academic publications such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, and newsletters that highlight your skills as a writer and thinker.

  • Use bibliographic citations for each work in the format appropriate for your particular field of study.
  • If you have not officially authored or co-authored any text publications, include studies you assisted in or any online articles you have written or contributed to that are related to your discipline or that are of an academic level.

Conference Presentations

As with publications, you probably won’t start attending conferences and giving presentations until well into your graduate school career. If you do have this experience, include any presentations you have been involved in, whether you were the presenter or contributed to the visual work (such as posters and slides).

  • Include the title of the presentation, the name of the conference or event, the location, and the date.
  • Briefly describe the content of your presentation.
  • Tip: Use formatting appropriate to your field of study to cite the conference.

Academic and Professional Membership

Affiliation with professional or academic groups shows admissions committees a willingness to branch outside of the university environment to pursue your interests and network with other like-minded individuals. Include academic/professional groups or societies of which you are a member.

  • List the name of the group, the dates of memberships, and any leadership positions or other roles you have held.

Research and Teaching Interests

In addition to any research or teaching work you have already completed or are currently working on, it is a good idea to discuss directions you would like to take with your research and instruction once you are admitted to graduate school. Be as specific as possible with the topic and even design of your potential research, and name any specific courses or areas of study for which you would be interested in teaching as a TA in individual classes. The more information you can present to admissions committees to show your readiness for graduate-level work will raise your value as a candidate.

Community Service, Volunteer Work, and Extra‐Curricular Activities

Include community and volunteer activities that helped develop your leadership, organization, or other skills that will help you succeed in graduate school.

  • List these activities and provide your role (e.g., “U of I Hospitals Volunteer”), the date of your involvement, and details showing how you participated.

Additional Relevant Skills and Languages

List other experiences and certifications you have that might benefit you in graduate school. In addition, list any languages in which you are fluent or proficient.


This is usually the final section of an academic CV. If possible, include 3-5 professional and academic references who can vouch for your ability and qualifications and provide evidence of these characteristics.

  • Write the name of the reference, professional title, affiliation, and contact information (phone and email are sufficient). You do not need to write these in alphabetical order. Consider listing your references in order of relevance and impact.

Formatting Tips for Your College/Graduate CV

Remember that no matter how compelling the content of your CV is, if it isn’t well organized and easy for admissions committee members to read, they probably won’t bother reading through all of your notable achievements and skills. Keep these formatting and organization tips in mind when composing and revising your CV:

  • Keep your formatting choices—such as indentation, font and text size, spacing, and grammar—consistent throughout the document.
  • Use bolding, italics, underlining, and capitalized words to highlight key information.
  • Use reverse chronological order to list your experiences within the sections.
  • Include the most important information to the top and left of each entry and place associated dates to the right.
  • Include page numbers on each page followed by your last name as a header or footer.

Revising and Editing Your CV/Resume

After you have finished composing your academic CV or resume, you still need to ensure that your language is compelling and accurate, that your organization is clear and tidy, and that your documents are free of errors. A good CV will generally take at least three or four revisions before it is ready to send out to university department faculty. Be sure to have a peer or professional editor check your work to ensure that there are no glaring errors or major room for improvement.

For the highest quality CV editing services and resume editing services in the industry, send your CV, application essays, and other admissions documents to Wordvice Editing & Proofreading Services. Our editors will ensure that your hard work is reflected in your CV and help you get into the college or graduate school of your choice.

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